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'Frustrated, worried, stressed and anxious': The worst places in Ireland to be a cyclist

The first part of Noteworthy’s in-depth investigation reveals high risk areas in its analysis of 12 years of cyclist collision data.

HAVING NEVER OWNED a car, cycling is Paddy Monahan’s main mode of transport. “There’s constant vigilance, constant risk of incidents and you really need to have your sixth sense on.”

He regularly posts videos on social media showing what it’s like for him and his four year old to cycle in the city but he fears that he is tempting fate and one of these videos will “end up in some kind of Facebook tribute”.

Paddy’s concerns are not unfounded, according to research carried out by Noteworthy. With cyclist injuries now at over 1,000 per year, we have spent the past two months taking a deep dive into cycling. We analysed Road Safety Authority (RSA) cyclist injury data from 2005 to 2016. Check out our map of this data here where you can see the volume of collisions in your area.

By concentrating on junctions and sections of road where cyclists were killed or seriously injured, we mapped the most dangerous blackspots around Ireland. We found that, during this period:

FATALITIES:

  • 55% of all injuries and 25% of all fatalities occurred in Dublin.
  • Cork was the next highest county for fatalities, with 13% occurring there, often on main roads in the county, rather than in the city.
  • One third of fatal collisions had another incident occur on the same spot or very nearby. Of these, 65% occurred after the fatal collision.

BLACKSPOTS:

  • The 2.6km commuter route from Fairview to the IFSC in Dublin was the worst stretch.
  • The junction at Kevin Street Upper and Patrick Street, overlooked by St Patrick’s Cathedral, was one of the worst junctions in the country for serious injuries.
  • Main Street in Bray, Dublin Road in Limerick, Headford Road in Galway and Avenue Road in Dundalk recorded numerous serious and minor injuries.
  • Aston Quay was the most dangerous part of the quays with two fatalities, one serious and five minor injuries within 270m.
  • For a full list of our blackspots, check out our table here.  

In part two of this investigation, we unveil the top cycle-related complaints to city councils, how poor infrastructure is affecting cyclists and how this can lead to injuries which cost local authorities thousands in public liability claims.

View the main blackspots we found in Dublin: 

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The most dangerous route

Paddy Monahan commutes on the most dangerous stretch of road that we found through our analysis of the RSA data, from Fairview to the IFSC in Dublin. “You’ve got a six-lane highway, basically in the city centre, so you’re weaving in and out of traffic,” he explained.

If you include the entire length of Fairview Park, starting at the Howth Road junction, to the IFSC, this 2.6km route had 80 collisions including two fatalities, seven serious and 71 minor injuries from 2005 to 2016.

These figures could be slightly higher, as with all our reported findings, as 1.4% of the official collision data (10 serious and 75 minor injuries) we received could not be mapped due to lack of coordinates.

A serious injury is defined by the RSA as fractures, concussion, internal injuries, crushings, severe cuts or lacerations and severe general shock requiring medical treatment. It also includes any injuries where a person is admitted to hospital as an inpatient. Minor injuries are “an injury of a minor character such as a sprain or bruise”.

The Fairview to IFSC journey is the second most popular cycling route in Dublin with over 1,500 cyclists passing over Newcomen Bridge on their journey into town on a miserable Thursday morning in November 2018. That was when the latest reported Canal Cordon took place which measures traffic passing various points and bridges in a circle surrounding the city centre.

Another regular cyclist through Fairview is Alan Downey from the campaign group iBikeDublin. He travels along it into town, often with his sons Cian (6) and Darragh (4) out the front of his cargo bike. You can watch his journey on the video below where he talks about some of the issues he encounters on a daily basis. 

A new cycleway has been planned for this area for many years, the Clontarf to City Centre scheme. Segregated cycle lanes are to line the entire route with redesigned traffic layouts.

Christopher Manzira, senior transportation officer at Dublin City Council said they “are in the middle of the construction procurement process and should go to tender on it by the end of May [2020]”. The council has completed the first stage and shortlisted contractors, according to Manzira. It will take two years to build once work begins as it involves extensive ground and public realm works in addition to the cycle scheme.

Temporary measures to protect cyclists on this corridor are not planned before work on the scheme begins as “it probably means that in six months we are ripping that up and cyclists are left with no facilities at all”. Instead Dublin City Council are working on a temporary traffic plan to be delivered as part of the construction work. They are planning various configurations, with options including cars being diverted to a parallel road in order to leave space for public transport and cyclists while sections are closed for works.

Downey said it is “fantastic that it is moving to the next stage” and that they’re happy with the planned infrastructure, but “it’s been a long number of years being developed”. Though iBikeDublin’s ultimate goal is to have this proper segregated infrastructure, he is disappointed there won’t be any short term improvements as “there’s always the risk of further delays depending on the economy or build progress”.

“The bold and the brave”

Though Cork was the second highest county in terms of fatalities between 2005 and 2016, with 15 occurring across various locations during this period, there were only two locations we found in the county that had a cluster of serious or fatal collisions. In terms of the number of collisions per population, Cork was lower, at 12th in Ireland.

One blackspot we identified where two fatalities and one minor collision occurred in the space of three years, was on a 300m stretch of dual carriageway on the N71 between Ballinhassig and the city. There was also a 350m stretch in the city itself from Main Street to Shandon Street which had six collisions, one of which resulted in the death of a cyclist and another a serious injury.

Conn Donovan, chair of the Cork Cycling Campaign said as well as “looking at where people are getting hurt and injured, you need to look at where they are not cycling”. The 2016 census found that less than 3% of commuters cycled in Cork City and suburbs which was lower than both Dublin and Galway at 8% and 6% respectively.

Though there are examples of good infrastructure such as bi-directional, parking- and curb-protected bike lanes, on roads including Pope’s Quay and Anglesey Street, Donovan compares cycling infrastructure in Cork to sprinkles landing randomly on a cake. He said it is “extremely piecemeal” so only “the bold and brave” cycle there.

Nearly every day when you cycle in the city, you’re gritting your teeth, you’re frustrated, worried, stressed and anxious because cars are prioritised in nearly every instance.

Cork City Council told Noteworthy it “is very cognisant of the key role that dedicated cycling infrastructure plays in the sustainable development of Cork City. We are constantly striving to ensure that adequate resources are available to maintain these facilities to a high standard.” The spokesperson added that “this however can be challenging” and they “target available resources at locations of most need”.

High rate of injuries

Louth stood out with the second highest rate of cyclist injuries, when measured per 100,000 population.

Ollan Herr has been campaigning for many years for the town to install a Dutch-standard cycle network as part of the Dundalk Cycling Alliance. Being a relatively flat old garrison town with wide streets he feels it is a perfect place for this as “you can easily shave off two metres of road”.

Not many people cycle in the area due to being nervous about safety, according to Herr. “Only very strongly motivated people like me would cycle on the streets of Dundalk”.

Source: Noteworthy via Flourish

A high res version of this graph can be found here.

By looking for areas with more serious fatalities in close proximity, we spotted three dangerous pieces of road in Dundalk: a 1.8km length of Avenue Road with 13 collisions, including one fatality and one serious injury within 350m of each other; a 900m stretch from Crowe Street to Barrack Street with 12 collisions, including two serious injuries; and a 350m section of the Dublin Road near Dundalk IT with two serious and four minor injuries.

Along one of the sections of road near Crowe Street, identified as a blackspot by Noteworthy, Herr had a near miss in recent years when he almost went over the bonnet of a car when it came from behind him and turned into a side street. The experienced cyclist said “it was as close as hell. I got an awful shock.”

Louth County Council said that there are cycle lanes along all of these roads. “From Crowe Street to Barrack Street has been upgraded extensively to cater for cyclists… including construction of cycle lanes on both sides of the road.”

Herr said there have been some improvements along sections of the Crowe Street area with the installation of cycle lanes that are protected by parked cars, though this came with much controversy and many objections from local shop owners at the time. However, he added that the cycle network in the town “does not properly connect up schools, shops and residential areas”.

The campaigner said that Avenue Road has painted lines rather than segregated lanes on both sides of the road, though they do not continue right to either end of the road. One major issue here is “cars frequently park in the cycle lane”.

The provision of cycle lanes that have only painted lines separating cars from cyclists was part of national policy at the time, [but] we do not believe it is sufficient to assure parents and encourage youngsters to cycle in safety to school.

The council said “there are currently no plans for additional designated cycle lanes on the Avenue Road” but added the cycle lane markings were refreshed last year.

There are also painted cycle lanes along the 350m stretch of Dublin Road we identified as a blackspot. Louth County Council said this section “is included [in] the 2021 Road Work Programme for resurfacing, including subsequent road markings cycle lanes repainting”.

The most dangerous junction outside Dublin that we found for more serious collisions was at the south junction of the Bridge of Peace in Drogheda where two serious and five minor collisions occurred. Louth County Council said that since 2016, after this injury data was collated, “the provision of vehicle restraint barriers and chevron signs have been carried out to improve safety”.

Waiting for a strategy

Limerick had the third highest number of cyclist collisions per head of population. We found that a 2.1km section of road from Clare Street to the Groody Roundabout was particularly dangerous in terms of collisions with three serious and 18 minor cyclist injuries from 2005 to 2016. There was also a fatality at both ends of the road.

Limerick City and County Council told Noteworthy that this road “has a dedicated, segregated cycleway for around a third of this route”. They said “there is a cycleway running parallel to the canal and then the River Shannon and almost parallel to this road in operation, which brings cyclists directly to UL”.

They added that the route from the city centre to the University of Limerick and the National Technology Park will be designated as a priority bus route in the soon to be published draft Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy “which will also provide for improved walking and cycling facilities on the very busy corridor”. This strategy has been in development for almost two years.

 If these maps aren’t working for you, click here for an interactive version. For a map that covers cyclist injuries for all of Ireland, click here

Caught in the tracks

An area that may not be sufficiently highlighted by the collision data is College Green in Dublin. The new Cross City line opened in 2017, so the impact of this new piece of public transport is not reflected in the statistics.

One of the blackspots Noteworthy found ran along Dame Street from College Green to Dublin Castle with three serious, all in 2015, and 24 minor cyclist injuries along the 450m strip from 2005 to 2016. However, numerous cyclists contacted us about the volume of buses in this area and bike tyres getting caught in Luas tracks so we investigated this further.

Downey from iBikeDublin was one of the many cyclists who came off his bike while cycling at low speed beside Trinity when his wheel got stuck. He found the aftermath rather than the fall “pretty scary” because of the potential to become further injured by buses or taxis while lying on the ground.

Your first instinct is not even to check if you’re alright. It’s to run off the road and get out of the way.

Though a contra-flow cycle lane has been installed on the Bank of Ireland side of the street, Downey said this is not practical. “It’s an afterthought put in because of complaints. If you’re worried about the Luas tracks, it’s probably quicker to get off the bike and walk.”

When asked about plans for College Green, a spokesperson from Dublin City Council said improvements in this area are linked to the proposed College Green plaza. Plans for this plaza were quashed by An Bord Pleanála last November but the council has said it intends to lodge a fresh application this year.

The two way cycle track beside the Bank of Ireland was designed to link up to a dedicated two way cycle track through College Green plaza and it is the clear intention of DCC to obtain permission to create a College Green plaza with cycle links through to Georges Street. This will provide much improved cycling facilities in the area.

Noteworthy obtained emails to Minister Shane Ross from a number of cyclists who were injured after falling on tracks over the past few years, with one needing surgery and another left with detached ligaments. One was from the partner of a “pensioner” who “depends on his bicycle to get around the city safely as he cannot walk very far due to his severe arthritis”.

He fell on the same spot as Downey, outside Trinity. “Today could have been the first road fatality of a cyclist outside Trinity,” his partner wrote. “It is imperative to sort out a safe designated lane for cyclists through this junction.”

Source: Department of Transport FOI via Noteworthy

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said that “in terms of potential dangers for cyclists on Luas tracks, cycling arrangements have been put in place along many sections of the Luas Cross City route however along certain sections there is the potential for cyclists to interact in relatively restricted space with trams, buses and taxis.”

This arrangement has given rise to safety concerns at these specific locations, with the possibility of bicycle wheels becoming caught in the grooves of the tram tracks. Because of these concerns Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has erected signs advising cyclists not to cycle along these specific sections.

Many cycling campaigners, including Downey have called for rubber inserts to be inserted “to make it safer to cycle across the other tracks”. He said that this has been done in other cities but commitment is required as they need maintenance and have to be replaced regularly.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said it “is aware of many trials which involve the installation of a rubber insert, or similar, into rail grooves. Those trials have not been successful, with the material becoming ripped and dislodged by the tram wheels during operation.”

Source: Noteworthy via Flourish

The information for this graph was collated from a recent Cyclist Injury Trends report from the RSA. A high res version of this graph can be found here

Unreported injuries

One issue with the RSA data that Noteworthy analysed as part of this investigation is that like many official datasets, it does not give the full picture. Only collisions that are reported to the Gardaí and subsequently transferred to the RSA are recorded.

Niamh O’Reilly, a PhD candidate in TU Dublin is hoping to fill in this crucial gap and help provide a better understanding of what’s happening on Dublin roads. She said that studies have been done to try to estimate how many cyclist collisions that result in more serious injuries actually get reported by comparing police and hospital records. Estimates varied from 10% in Denmark to 35% in Germany, according to O’Reilly.

In Ireland, O’Reilly found just over 11% of people reported a serious collision and under 6% reported a minor one to Gardaí, from an online survey to over 900 staff and students of the university last year.

Cyclist collisions are one of the most underreported groups in road collisions.

O’Reilly is conducting a study using the reporting platform and app BikeMaps.org which is enabling her “to find out more about collisions” and by doing that she hopes to “show where danger points are”. She wants cyclists to use this to record collisons, cyclist hazards and bike thefts in order to study the true extent of these in the city.

In the first few weeks of the app being available in Dublin, the majority of incidents reported involved a “collision with a moving object or vehicle”. Most of the cyclists were commuting and not injured but a small number had to go to hospital. The biggest hazard she found reported to date is “a vehicle in a bike lane”, something that many cyclists reported to us over the past few weeks also. 

Pinch point at the port

Because of this issue of underreporting, Noteworthy also took into account a number of factors when looking for bicycle blackspots. For instance, the approach roads to the Tom Byrne / East Link Bridge did not have a large number of collisions, from the RSA data, compared to similar areas of road length in Dublin.

However, it was marked by us as one of the most dangerous blackspots in the country due to the severity of incidents there and from looking at other available data.

The approach roads to the bridge (map below: red line), North Wall Quay and East Wall Road to the north and Sean Moore Road to the south, had a total of 17 cyclist injuries which isn’t significant for 3km of road in Dublin. However, the severity of the collisions was different. Of these collisions, three resulted in the death of cyclists and four in serious injuries.

This part of the city is different from the centre as being near the port it has lots of larger vehicles and trucks. In fact, two of the three fatalities involved a truck. There has been a HGV ban in the city centre since 2007 on trucks with five or more axles.

For this investigation, See.Sense, a smart bike light company based in Belfast, provided us with data supplied by their customers on the top 24 points of road in Dublin that had a combination of poor road surface, swerving and heavy braking by cyclists. Two of the top three locations were near the East Link (map below: purple points): one at the roundabout at the bridge on the northside which was also the location of one fatal and two minor collisions. Another at the roundabout near the port on the southside.

Port - Compiled V4 See.Sense points (purple) alongside RSA cyclist injury reports: fatal (red), serious (yellow) and minor (grey) Source: Noteworthy via Google Earth

Philip McAleese, See.Sense co-founder and chief executive officer, explained that their smart lights work by using sensors to “enable the light to be bright where it needs to be”. This was initially done to conserve the light’s batteries but people can opt in to share their data with the company which they use to work with “cycling infrastructure planners and people who are responsible for that infrastructure”.

The points that he shared with Noteworthy are “an aggregated view of tens of thousands of journeys and billions of sensor readings”. McAleese and his team combine their data on surface condition, swerving and braking as they “feel that cyclists are taking the most avoiding action on the poorest road surface, which feels like a recipe for bad news”.

Manzira from Dublin City Council said they are looking to develop the entire Point area from behind Fairview Park to the bridge and added that their “intention is also to provide a crossing at the Liffey”.

In order to build this new cycle bridge, they need an agreement with Dublin Port Company which they hope to have achieved by the end of the summer. “Once we have those agreements, it means we can immediately move into the planning process which would enable us to start building next year.”

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The port area of the city was also heavily featured on mapping done by Liberty Bell, a smart bike bell platform, with 31 points recorded by cyclists around the East Link Bridge. These included comments such as “very tight and sometimes dangerous for cyclists to cross [the] bridge” and “poor surface”.

Conor Cahill is founder and developer of the platform and explained that the smart bike bell records the location when people ring it and they can write about their experience at that spot after their journey. He cites “pinch points” at the East Link Bridge and along the quays and said “it’s hard to see them resolved without leadership allocating more space for cyclists in the city”.

A lot of the time there were conflicts with other road users and that seems to be amplified when there is not enough space allocated for cyclists.

Brian Farrell, communications manager with the RSA said that Ireland is “still in the mindset where the car is king for a whole host of reasons” but vulnerable road users need to be prioritised. According to Farrell, conflicts between road users were found to be reduced in other cities such as Seville, Copenhagen and Eindhoven when they became more cycling friendly.

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Alan Downey Sons - Darrah & Cian Alan Downey’s sons Darragh (4) and Cian (6) looking forward to a trip on his cargo bike Source: Alan Downey

In order to speed up the implementation of this cycle infrastructure in Dublin, the City Council has taken “a more aggressive and affordable approach”, according to its senior transportation officer, Manzira. They hope to install ten kilometres of protected lanes this year, with twice that in 2021.

The removal of loading bays and parking spaces as well as the installation of lane separators and bollards along a number of streets was announced earlier this month to allow extra space for people walking and on bikes. This temporary measure is to help combat the spread of Covid-19 and “in many cases” will revert back to previous road layouts, according to Dublin City Council.

The areas included were Ranelagh, Rathmines, Stoneybatter, Dorset Street and Capel Street. A counter flow cycle lane will also be installed on Nassau Street. “There will be additional locations as the situation evolves”, according to the council.

Though some blackspot areas we found are in these locations, such as on Ranelagh Road, Manor Street and Blackhall Place (along the Cabra to Ellis Quay route) as well as one of the most popular cycling routes through Drumcondra on Dorset Street (Binn’s Bridge route), the council told Noteworthy that “the first areas are small targeted measures outside of locations where people are queuing on footpaths”.

Further measures may be needed, added the spokesperson, but at the moment these additional protections for cyclists do not cover the majority of the collision prone junctions and sections of road that stood out from the RSA data we analysed. 

Source: Janet Horner via Twitter

Though the move was welcomed by cycling campaign groups, there have already been posts on social media of these new lane separators and bollards being ignored. Dublin City Council said “the measures are by nature temporary… In some location[s] there may be a requirement for more semi-permanent measures to ensure effectiveness.”

About 120km of bike lanes are needed in Dublin City and Manzira explained that this will take “five years for protected cycle lanes and maybe another five years for the higher quality schemes”.

In order to be a cycling friendly city, it is realistic we could achieve this by 2030.

For Downey, ten years is a long time and his sons will be teenagers by then so for them “it’s almost a lifetime of unsafe cycling in the city” when the Great Dublin Area Cycling Network Plan has been out there since December 2013.

You’re worried about cycling but at the same time, it is how I’ve gotten around for the past 20 years. I want to encourage [my sons] that the city is possible to cycle in. Dublin is a great way to get around by bike with all of its flaws.

With his kids out the front of his cargo bike, Downey said he gets annoyed at drivers who don’t pay attention but “this brings it back to needing safe segregated infrastructure”.

“That’s what’s going to keep us safe. You can’t rely on somebody in their car as even if they follow all the rules they might get distracted and I can’t control what they’re going to do.” 

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Part two of our investigation, which you can read here, reveals the top cycle-related complaints to city councils, how poor infrastructure is affecting cyclists and how this can lead to injuries which cost local authorities thousands in public liability claims.

*** 

This is part one of an in-depth investigation carried out by Noteworthy, the investigative journalism platform from TheJournal.ie. It was proposed and funded by you, our readers, as well as with support from the Noteworthy general fund.

With the volume of data we obtained, we took the decision to expand the investigation in order to conduct sufficient analysis and create multimedia visualisations. If you would like to help towards the cost of this additional work, please support the general fund here.

You can also support our work by helping to fund one of our other investigation proposals or submitting an idea for a story. Click here to find out more >>

 

About the author:

Maria Delaney

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